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S. African Opposition Dismayed by Dissolution of Crime Fighting Unit


In South Africa, opposition leaders are reacting with dismay to the dissolution of an elite crime fighting unit that targeted organized crime and corrupt public officials. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

South African opposition leaders lamented the overwhelming passage Thursday night of two bills disbanding the special anti-crime and corruption unit known as the Scorpions.

The leader of the opposition Independent Democrats party, Patricia De Lille, called it a sad day in an interview on South African television's E-News.

"The battle to dissolve the Scorpions has been won and the war against crime certainly has been lost because the police and the Scorpions complemented each other," she said.

The Inkatha Freedom Party called it a day that will live in infamy and the Democratic Alliance called it a political act to protect members of the ruling African National Congress.

Parliament passed bills disbanding the Scorpions by an 80 percent majority thanks to the dominance of the ANC in the legislative body.

Another opposition leader, Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement, said he hoped voters in elections next year would reduce the two-thirds majority that allows the ANC to pass laws at will.

"Never again should this country put all their eggs in one basket because this one-party state must be blamed squarely on the voters," he said. "And I hope they have learned a lesson in the last twelve months."

Under the bills, the Scorpions are to be incorporated into the national police under a special directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

The government's Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa, defended the bills saying they would end rivalry between the Scorpions and the police and bring greater efficiency to law enforcement.

"Through the establishment of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation we have established a sharper instrument to stab the heart of organized crime," he said.

The powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions Friday praised the parliamentary vote.

The Scorpions were founded nine years ago to strengthen the fight against corruption and organized crime. A study said it made two thousand arrests and enjoyed a 90 percent conviction rate.

The unit reportedly dismantled several dozen crime syndicates. And it obtained a prison sentence for fraud against the former ANC chief whip in parliament and targeted several dozen lawmakers for making personal trips on official travel funds.

Critics said the Scorpions were used selectively and to bring down political rivals of powerful officials.

The Scorpions were seeking to prosecute ANC leader Jacob Zuma who is the leading candidate to become president in elections next year.

A court last month threw out corruption charges against Zuma on a technicality in a ruling that implied political interference by former President Thabo Mbeki.

The ruling led the ANC leadership, which is controlled by Zuma allies since a party congress last December, to oblige Mbeki to resign some six months before the end of his term.

The resignation has led to the defection of several prominent Mbeki allies who, led by former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, are preparing to launch a new party.

Lekota has been staging rallies around South Africa. On Thursday a rally by Lekota in an impoverished community outside Johannesburg was disrupted by Zuma supporters.

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